Study shows 600% increase in youth prescriptions for weight loss and diabetes drugs since 2020



Published May 27, 2024


if you’re looking to lose weight, you’ve probably heard of the drugs Ozempic and Wegovy. A new study reveals a dramatic rise in the prescription of these drugs among young people in the US.

According to the research, prescriptions for GLP-1 agonist drugs like Wegovy and Ozempic increased by 594.4% in just three years.

This study, published in the journal “JAMA”, shows that from 2020 to 2023, the number of prescriptions for people from 12 to 25 years old jumped from 8 722 to 60 567.

The biggest increase was seen among young women and adolescent girls. For females, this increase was more pronounced.

The number of female adolescents 12 – 17 years using GLP-1RAs increased by 588%, compared with 504% for male adolescents.

The number of female young adults 18 – 25 years using GLP-1 RAs increased by 659%, compared with 481% for male young adults.

Interest in these drugs surged in 2021 when semaglutide was approved for weight management in adults under the brand name Wegovy, and increased even further when Wegovy was approved for weight management in adolescents at the end of 2022.

Obesity is a major problem worldwide. Picture: Moe Magners/Pexels

While demand for these drugs has surged across all age groups recently, the study specifically highlights this significant trend among the younger population.

It used data from a database covering more than 93% of retail pharmacies in the US. However, the researchers noted that the data doesn’t specify whether the medications were actually used or the exact conditions they were intended to treat, as reported by CNN.

To provide context, the study also looked at prescription trends for other medications. It found a 3% decrease in the prescriptions of other drugs for the same age group during the same period.

This study examined the use of several medications for Type 2 diabetes and weight management.

These include Ozempic (semaglutide), Trulicity (dulaglutide), and Byetta (exenatide) for diabetes and weight loss, as well as Saxenda (liraglutide) and Wegovy (semaglutide) for weight management.

They can be prescribed to children as young as 10 or 12 years old. However, Tirzepatide, sold as Zepbound and Mounjaro, is approved for adults only.

Researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School and Yale University highlighted the need for safe and appropriate prescribing practices, particularly as more young people are being prescribed these medications.

They stressed that endocrinologists, family medicine doctors, and nurse practitioners should play key roles in these efforts.

The rise in obesity and Type 2 diabetes among young people in the US is alarming. A 2023 study found that the number of 10 to 19 year old youth with Type 2 diabetes has doubled in the past 20 years. The study also predicted a 673% increase in young people with Type 2 diabetes by 2060.

Obesity is a major problem worldwide. In South Africa, there may be a six-year delay between asking health-care professionals for weight loss help and actually receiving it.

The statistics are alarming. Between 70% and 80% of adult women in South Africa are either overweight or obese.

More than 31% of adult men are obese. This excess weight leads to a range of serious health issues, including hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, breathing problems, fertility issues, lower back pain, knee problems, and an increased risk of cancer.

In total, there are over 229 medical conditions linked to being overweight or obese, making effective interventions crucial.

Dr Melanie Cree, a paediatric endocrinologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, has been working with medications for obesity and Type 2 diabetes in children for almost a decade. She describes these drugs as game-changers.

Not only do they help kids lose weight and lower blood sugar but they also reduce liver fat and improve heart and kidney function.

They’re not just lowering blood sugars, said Cree, who was not involved in the recent study. They appear to be decreasing the complications we see from Type 2 diabetes, affecting multiple aspects of health.

They’re changing what diabetes look like in individuals and the field of diabetes overall.

Cree believes the new obesity and diabetes drugs have few drawbacks. Some patients stop using them or reduce the dosage due to side effects like nausea. Cree thinks more research is needed on these side effects.

The primary concerns are not the physical impact of the drugs but the cost. Many patients find the medication expensive, and insurance often does not cover it, when used for weight loss.

Drug shortages have made it difficult for many patients to fill their prescriptions.